The 2018-19 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season continued a trend that started the year before with some of the best free-throw shooting ever seen in professional basketball. Despite the rise in the number of games played and, accordingly, a jump in the number of free throws shot by most players over the course of a single season, many players and entire teams have improved their averages with some reaching records heights.
Valencia Basket set the competition’s single-season record in 2017-18 by making 82.79% of its free throws and this past season witnessed a record five teams shoot 80% or better! Never before have players made free throws at such high percentages and last season even saw one come close to breaking the all-time record for consecutive free throws made.
Elite shooters lead the way
Led by Real Madrid's Jaycee Carroll (96.0%) and his teammate Sergio Llull (95.8%), there were of 12 players with at least 30 attempts who made 91% or more of their free throw attempts in the 2018-19 season. There were nine players who have accomplished that feat the season before, but only three (Kostas Sloukas, Nando De Colo and Carroll) have done it in both seasons. It is the second consecutive season that Carroll missed just 2 free throws the entire season; he’s made 94 of 98 foul shots since the start of the 2017-18 season.
Major increase of great free throw shooters
Over the course of the last 19 seasons, there have been 78 instances in which qualified players shot 91% or better from the free throw line in a single season. With 12 of those in 2018-19 and nine a season earlier, 26.9% of the aforementioned performances have been seen over the course of the past two seasons. Moreover, last season was the first time that as many as eight different players were poised enough to shoot 93% or better in one season. Never before were there more than four such players in a single campaign and there have been only 36 instances in which a player shot that well over the course of one season. Twelve of those 36 have been accomplished in the past two campaigns.
Teams sett new standard
The league-wide free-throw shooting average has been below 75% every single season until the change in the competition format three years ago. With 16 teams competing in 2016-17, the league-wide average jumped to 75.71%, it increased to 76.36% a year later and set a new high last season as teams shot 76.64% from the stripe. In addition, five teams shot better than 80% for the season. League leader Efes made 82.1% of its free throw followed by CSKA Moscow’s 81.2%, while Fenerbahce, Zalgiris and AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan were all above 80% as well. In the previous 18 seasons, there were only 17 teams that shot better than 80% and the most in one season was three teams in 2011-12.
Streak that came just short
Zalgiris Kaunas guard Marius Grigonis had a streak of 55 consecutive free throws made this past season. It was the second-longest streak in competition history; Grigonis was just 3 shy of the record 58 set by Igor Rakocevic in January 2009. Grigonis's streak, which interestingly started and ended in Istanbul, spanned 19 games. It started in the first quarter of a Round 12 clash at Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul and ended with 20 seconds to go in the third quarter of his team’s playoff opener at Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.
Active players rule the all-time rankings
We may one day look at this as the golden age of EuroLeague free throw shooting. Of the best seven EuroLeague free throw shooters on the all-time charts, five are active players; the all-time leader is Nando De Colo (93.82% free throw accuracy for career), while fourth through seventh place belong to Petteri Koponen (91.72%), Carroll (91.10%), Luigi Datome (91.09%) and Janis Strelnieks (90.63%). The player ranked third on the all-time list is Brian Roberts, who played in the 7DAYS EuroCup for Unicaja Malaga last season, while the second best free throw shooter is Sarunas Jasikevicius, who coaches Zalgiris Kaunas, one of the best free throw shooting teams last season. The Lithuanian champs made 80.61% last season, which was the club's best average since the inaugural EuroLeague season.